For eight seasons, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown formed the league's scariest quarterback-receiver duo, combining for 74 touchdowns in that span. In 2018, the Steelers duo collected another 15 touchdowns -- a single-season high -- which is what made the abrupt ending of their partnership this offseason feel so drastic, shocking, and unfortunate.
By now, we all know what happened. Tension between the quarterback and receiver had been brewing for a while, partially due to comments that Roethlisberger had made on his radio show when he criticized Brown for running an imprecise route on a play that ended with Roethlisberger getting picked off by a defensive lineman on the goal line. The tension finallyleading up to a must-win Week 17 game, Brown's absence from the game itself, a , and finally, and ended the most productive partnership in football.
Months later, it sounds like Roethlisberger is ready to tell his side of the story. It also sounds like he's willing to own up to the mistake he made that he now realizes might've caused the schism in his relationship with Brown.
"I took some heat and deservedly so for some of the comments on that show and especially towards him. I genuinely feel bad about that and I'm sorry. Did I got too far after that Denver game? Probably," he told KDKA's Bob Pompeani. "That's the thing about media and social media, As soon as you say 'sorry' it only goes so far. You can't take it back. And I wish I could because if that's what ruined our friendship and relationship, I'm truly, genuinely sorry about that."
Ben Roethlisberger's first comments to @KDPomp and @KDKA on Antonio Brown: "I took some heat and deservedly so for some of the comments on that show and especially towards him. I genuinely feel bad about that and I'm sorry. Did I got to far after that Denver game? Probably..."— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) May 20, 2019
Roethlisberger continued on AB: "That's the thing about media and social media, As soon as you say 'sorry' it only goes so far. You can't take it back. And I wish I could because if that's what ruined our friendship and relationship, I'm truly, genuinely sorry about that."— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) May 20, 2019
Not long after Roethlisberger's comments surfaced on Monday, Brown sent out a tweet that may or may not be related to what Roethlisberger said. You decide for yourself.
Two face— Antonio Brown (@AB84) May 20, 2019
and the aftermath, because it really does feel like the moment the relationship fractured to a point that was beyond repair. It feels like the beginning of the end.
In Week 12, the Steelers faced the Broncos in Denver. The Steelers watched in the second half as their 17-10 lead turned into a 24-17 deficit in the fourth quarter. Down seven, the Steelers embarked upon a potential game-tying drive. They made it all the way to the 3-yard line with roughly two minutes to play. On first-and-goal, Roethlisberger failed to hook up with JuJu Smith-Schuster. On second-and-goal, James Conner got stuffed at the 2-yard line. On third-and-goal, Big Ben tried to hit Brown over the middle, but his pass was picked off underneath by Broncos defensive tackle Shelby Harris.
It was a devastating loss for the Steelers, who entered the game as three-point favorites on the road. Considering they ended up finishing half a game behind the Ravens in the AFC North, the loss proved to be especially costly. The aftermath, though, appears to have been even more damaging.
On his weekly radio show, Roethlisberger criticized Brown's route on the play, saying Brown needed to "come flat." Roethlisberger also said he wished they had thrown the ball to Smith-Schuster on four straight plays down by the goal line.
At the time,, saying stuff like "I've got big shoulders. I can take it" and "Constructive criticism is only for you to get better. It's not personal." But in February, as the trade saga was unfolding, Brown indicated on Twitter that Roethlisberger's habit of calling out players publicly ( ) bothered him and played a significant role in his trade request.
No conflict just a matter of respect! Mutual respect! He has a owner mentality like he can call out anybody including coaches. Players know but they can’t say anything about it otherwise they meal ticket gone. It’s a dirty game within a game. #truth https://t.co/MsSyBVd3Ny— Antonio Brown (@AB84) February 16, 2019
Not longer after,, saying "If the players were smart, they'd listen to him."
However, it now seems like Roethlisberger has realized his public criticisms have backfired. It seems like Roethlisberger has listened to the criticisms he's faced in recent months as the Brown situation developed and resolved itself, and is now willing to make changes.
It's been reported that he will no longer take part in a weekly radio show, which should help him avoid making critical comments about his teammates. Last week, Roethlisberger hosted his teammates at a lake house in Georgia. There's no real way for an outsider to know for certain, but it certainly seems like Roethlisberger has listened to the criticisms about his leadership and is now trying to address them. This would be a good thing.
The Steelers got worse this offseason from a talent standpoint by trading away arguably the league's best receiver (and, not to mention, officially parting ways with Le'Veon Bell). There's no way around that. But if the end result is a team of the NFL becoming completely functional without any annoying distractions, then maybe the drop off in talent won't be as devastating as it should be.
And it's not like the Steelers are completely devoid of talent. Smith-Schuster appears to be a worthy successor to Brown's throne. Conner has proved his ability to fill in admirably for Bell. Most importantly, they still have Big Ben, who is coming off a 5,129-yard and 34-touchdown season at the age of 36. How Roethlisberger fares at age 37 and beyond will likely determine if the Steelers can overcome the losses of Brown and Bell to make their first Super Bowl run since the 2010 season.